It has been a dream of mine to do an expedition-length adventure race for a while now. Since I finally live in place where there are such races, the main obstacle for me now is to find a team. To that end, recently I advertised myself on the UK Sleepmonsters adventure racing forum, to see who was out there lacking a girl for a team. A few quick replies got my hopes up, and now it is just a matter of finding a compatible team with a relative speed close to mine. Not an easy proposition as I am discovering!
It's always nice to meet up with future teammates, so when one of the teams invited me to go for a run with them, I had to make it work. It didn't matter that the "run" was a proposed marathon-length NIGHT RECCE of the High Peak Marathon! (For those of you unfamiliar with the HPM, it is a 40 mile teams-of-4 race that starts at midnight, through the mostly trackless moors and bogs in the Peak District.) Plus, the recce was scheduled for a weekend I had to work...but I said I would do it anyway, and immediately started dreading the missed sleep time. Sleep deprivation is an obstacle to overcome in adventure racing, though, and since I am used to working nights, I figured I could do 36 hours without sleep without too much trouble.
After working 11 hours and watching a few inches of snow come down, I drove a couple more hours in fog and darkness to the edge of the Peak district. There, eight of us met up and carpooled to an even more remote Peaks location. I'd say where, but I have no idea because I have yet to see any of the Peaks in daylight! In my communications with the team, I'd asked if their hazing plan for newbies included being left behind in a "nameless bog" somewhere. When the reply was simply "No, all of our bogs are named....", I started wondering what I was getting myself into!
The fog was swirling around us as we set off, and I focused on keeping my 7 newest companions, and one dog, in sight, given that I had no idea where the car was or where we were going. Map and compass, which I carried, seemed spectacularily useless in the face of the trackless wild moors we were running over. The first hill did go on forever, and mostly what I saw was the reflections of their backpacks disappearing into the clag ahead of me. But, it turned out that the group was really careful to keep everyone together, and we took frequent, short stops to make sure that everyone was eating, drinking, staying warm, and feeling ok.
The recent snowfall made running in the dark so much easier, throwing every rock and bump into stark relief, saving a few twisted ankles, I'm sure. The full moon was less useful, as the fog gave us no views of the sky all night. The snow also covered up the boggy sections, so I made sure to keep a few of the group ahead of me (hah, like that was deliberate rather than accidental), so I could see their black, sunken footprints and avoid them. My favorite trail running shoes have special elastic laces, which makes for easy removal and eliminates untied shoelaces...however, in these bogs, easy shoe removal is a hazard, not a bonus. A frantic last-minute search that day during work, had turned up a piece of string, which I threaded through the top eyelets of my shoes and tied tightly, then crossed my fingers that it would keep my shoes on my feet. Inevitably I hit a few ankle-deep spots of sucking mud myself, and I am grateful to report no lost shoe-searches were required.
The weather hovered around freezing all night, with almost no wind, so with a couple of layers, we stayed warm enough, barring the wet feet. I tried out a wonderful invention for the first time, called Sealskinz socks, which are waterproof, and just what I had needed (but didn't have) last week during my freezing mountain bike ride. Although my shoes were soaked early on and for the entire run, my feet stayed warm. Brilliant. Thanks Ali for recommending them!
So although I had no idea where I was, hopefully our navigator did, as we all wanted to eventually get back to the cars. I'm told we went around a lake, and some rocks, and a trig point, and a few streams, and maybe even a river. I have no idea because our lights barely penetrated the fog to see the trail in front of us! But we all started to wonder if our navigator was slightly mad, when he convinced us to leave a perfectly good footpath and careen wildly down a steep, snow-covered heather-strewn hillside to the stream at the bottom. With toboggans we could have made short work of it, but even without them there was plenty of accidental sliding involved. The stream crossing involved more foot-wetting, and then the slog up the other side of the valley was straight up and never seemed to end. Eventually we did find another path, so perhaps it was more than just guesswork by the map and compass holder...I'm sure we'll never really know.
With a bottle of Coke to keep me fueled with caffeine, I never felt tired, and it was quite interesting to be out there in the middle of the night with the rest of the world asleep. When we finished the shorter-than-planned loop, I felt that I was just hitting my stride...at least until one of the group reminded me that the Housman Hundred in May would require me to do 4 more loops of the distance we had just finished! Ouch.